Ruminations on Our Ethics of Fermentation
Fermentation is the careful guiding of molecules from one state to another. We take juice, crisp, clean, beautiful juice, and we force its atoms to change, to evolve, to scatter, rip themselves asunder and remold themselves into something that makes our brains feel fuzzy and our tongues stay sharp. Sweet cider becomes tart wine, carbon molecules erupt and enzymes and tannins collide, acids and sugars blend into complex chains and shifting fault lines of flavor.
A miasma of potential quirks, strengths, and weaknesses hide behind each sniff from the top of the tank, each sip from the glass pulled from a valve. Carefully, we begin to introduce suggested routes for the cider to take, with yeast and nutrients, oxygen and carbon dioxide, motion and temperature, patience and urgency, and most of all, time, in an ever shifting palate of choices.
Allow oxygen to blend with the yeast, but then protect it from the air outside. Cool the juice down to drop out the sediment, heat it up to help the yeast consume the sugar, but not too much, or you'll burn through esters and aromas too quickly. Get it off the lees, get it through a filter. Give it time. You don't have any time. Transfer, juggle tanks and splash liquids and battle invisible armies of bacteria and organisms both benevolent and depraved, well suited and ill groomed.
And each step of the way, it may do something completely different than you could have ever expected, so you must react, and adjust your plan, and allow the juice to tell you where it is going. All that you can offer it are the tools to reach its potential. Give it the right balance of chaos and order, time and temperature, and something even more intangible, and more profound. Because, in the end, you are nurturing a living, rapidly evolving osmotic mass.
You are shifting and blending and adjusting something that can be divided and reunited, a bizarre hodge podge of oxygen and nitrogen and amino acids and proteins and sugar and ethanol and esters and tannins and acids and carbon and inherited human genius and human error. And in these incredibly complex circumstances human minds and human lives are pushing around it and you begin to be able to get a sense of the story, not of what happened inside the cider, but what happened around it.
Because tanks full of juice are blank pages and we are the pens and ink of the story. We are wild, irrational implements, trying to bring order to something chaotic and mysterious, that predates our most unreachable ancestors. Something that happens with or without us. But being the clever, insane semi sentient beings that we are, we try to figure out how to change something already beautiful and delicious into something else entirely different, but equally magnificent.
Fermentation is the preservation of a series of moments in time, as it captures the climax of a plant or a tree's attempt to propagate itself, and allows its fruit to be juiced, to ripen and fester and evolve. We take something that just exists for the purpose of providing the means for another seed to germinate, sprout, and take, and use it for something else entirely.
A tree goes into hibernation when fruit would die, and then, when Spring has sprung, it begins to push the first flowers and the leaves to shade them from the sun and keep them watered. Then, slowly, carefully, the apple ripens, and swells, until it drops on the ground, with a pearl white core and coffee brown seeds like jewels in a line.
We do to juice what our trees do to fruit. We nurture the juice, and allow the right kind of yeast and bacteria to grow, and allow it to change before our eyes, but more importantly before our noses and tongues, and we allow it to change us, with every sip, and every second we spend with it. Because this is our lives, because we spend most of our waking hours around the cider.
Orchards create bins full of wicksons, gravensteins, pippins, and pears, and we turn it into a five sense snapshot of that particular autumn in that exact orchard and that particular tree being picked and that fruit being pressed and that exact time it spent in the tank. Smell, taste, feel, watch, and hear it splash into your glass, and taste the bittersweet memory of another autumn and winter passing before our eyes. Taste the unique, one of a kind blend of the exact story of acres of blossoms becoming bins full of fruit becoming stacks of cans and bottles.
Taste what it's like to smell the freshly crushed apples spraying into the air at the cider press, or the first layer of yeast writhing and foaming from the top of a furiously churning ferment. Or the satisfaction of us sitting on pallets at the end of a long day of having cans exploding in our faces and drenched head to toe in cider, when we crack open a can and drink something that we made because it is exactly what we want to drink. And now you're drinking it with us.
So you're not just tasting the can in your hand. Or the glass on your table. Or the liquid inside it. You are tasting a story, and a different story in every batch. Feel free to turn the page.